Cards hope new Busch sees Fall ending
St. Louis tries for championship, new stadium in same year
ST. LOUIS -- No Major League team has christened a new ballpark and won a World Series championship in the same season since 1923.
It last occurred at "The House That Ruth Built" in '23, and it also happened with the Red Sox at Fenway Park 11 years earlier. The Yankees defeated the New York Giants, 4-2, in the 1923 Fall Classic, while the Red Sox downed the Giants, 4-3-1, in '12.
New Busch Stadium could make it three, depending on the outcome of a World Series between the tenant St. Louis Cardinals and the Detroit Tigers. The series is tied at 1-1, and now a city that is so accustomed to Fall Classics through the past century is ready for its appearance at a brand-new facility on Tuesday night in Game 3.
Cardinals co-owners Fred Hanser and Bill DeWitt Jr. were talking about it in the visitors' clubhouse after that unforgettable Game 7 clincher against the Mets last Thursday night at Shea Stadium. For the record, they were asked, rather than looking too far ahead themselves, about the last time a world championship was won in the same season a ballpark was opened. And when DeWitt said he believed that the first year of Yankee Stadium was the only such example, he was nearly right on, forgetting Boston's triumph over the Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson-led Giants in the previous decade.
In fact, other than those long-ago victories by the Sox and Yankees, the only other time that a World Series was played in the same season in which a participant's ballpark had opened was in 1970. That was the dawn of Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, home to the future Big Red Machine powerhouses and a movement toward artificial turf and the circular citadels.
The Reds lost in that World Series to the Orioles, who came to Riverfront and took the first two games on their way to the victory behind Jim Palmer, Dave McNally and one of the best starting rotations in baseball history. In the days of Babe Ruth, however, it was the purest form of magnificence for a new Major League Baseball facility -- a charter season that brought a massive increase in attendance and a world championship.
"I'd give a year of my life if I can hit a home run in the first game in this new park," Ruth said as Yankee Stadium was waiting to be inaugurated, and he did just that, going deep in the third inning of Opening Day on April 18, 1923.
The White Construction Company takes credit for building Yankee Stadium, which finally -- and yes, it's still hard to imagine -- will be replaced by a new version in the same area after this decade is over.
Through the years, Ruth was given metaphoric credit for building it, though. After all, it was his presence that made it possible.
On Feb. 6, 1921, the Yankees announced the purchase of 10 acres of property in the west Bronx. It was a little over a year after their announcement that they had acquired Ruth himself from the Red Sox. The land, purchased for $675,000 from the estate of William Waldorf Astor, sat directly across the Harlem River from the Polo Grounds, where the Yankees had played since 1913. On their newly acquired property, the Yankees would build the most famous ballpark in history.
That first year, the Yankees had the game's No. 1 drawing card, and now they had the No. 1 facility. Soon it became apparent that they also had the Majors' best team. The Yankees won the American League pennant by 16 games.
Interestingly, it was future Yankees managerial legend Casey Stengel, then a 34-year-old Giants outfielder, who made the path to this christening difficult. He hit an inside-the-park home run off Joe Bush into left-center field, and that run stood up as the Giants won Game 1 at Yankee Stadium, 5-4.
The Yankees were now winless in their last nine World Series games against the Giants, losing eight and tying the other. The format in those days called for alternating stadiums each game, so Game 2 was at the Polo Grounds, and Ruth made an immediate difference. He had slugged 41 homers that season to tie the Phillies' Cy Williams for the Major League lead, and he went deep in the fourth and fifth innings of Game 2. Herb Pennock, another ex-Red Sox player, was superlative in pitching the Bombers to their breakthrough 4-2 victory.
The Yankees went on to finish off the Giants in six games, their first of 26 World Series championships. Ruth homered again in the clincher, this one a mighty solo shot into the upper deck. In all, Ruth had three homers, a triple, a double and two singles, drew eight walks and batted .368. He had a teammate who would go on to some notable contributions as well: Lou Gehrig, a 20-year-old who replaced first baseman Wally Pipp late that season, started a legendary consecutive-game streak of 2,130.
The 1923 World Series featured two Yankee Stadium crowds in excess of 62,000 and another surpassing 55,000, and was the first to hit the $1 million figure in gate receipts. Yankee Stadium was now officially opened, and a new stadium had a championship tenant in its first year.
Will Busch become the second to do that, 83 years later? It is an oddity, when you think about it. No city has ever been any less moved by a World Series title just because the winner played in an old place. In fact, one could argue that it would have meant more to St. Louisans to have been able to send off old Busch in style last year.
Other clubs have come close in this matter of ultimate christening. On June 5, 1989, the Toronto Blue Jays played their first game at SkyDome after many years at Exhibition Stadium. The 1990 season was their first full one in that incredible pantheon in what was the Majors' first retractable roof. The club was in the process of building what would become Canada's first Major League world champion just two years later, the first of back-to-back titles.
The Braves won their first World Series title in Atlanta in 1995, and then in 1997 they christened Turner Field. The Wild Card Florida Marlins got in their way that year, winning it all. There were many opportunities in the years to come as Atlanta was a postseason regular, and the best chance was in 1999, when they returned to the World Series and were later swept by the Yankees.
Arizona christened Bank One Ballpark, now Chase Field, in 1998. The Diamondbacks beat the Yankees three years later in a seven-game thriller.
Dodger Stadium, it should be noted, was opened in 1962. When the Dodgers beat the White Sox in the 1959 World Series -- two years after moving west from Brooklyn -- they played their home games at the monstrous Los Angeles Coliseum.
There will be no new Major League ballpark in 2007, ending what seems like at least one new one practically every year.
If the Cardinals should win this World Series, then it would merely mean that it was everything a Redbirds fan and their organization could hope for in the first year of a brand new park. Capacity crowds, constant buzz around town and someone repeating Jack Buck's old saw, "That's a winner!" Maybe someone would even say that it was The House That Pujols Built, although truthfully that one is probably forever taken.
From a historical standpoint, though, it still would mean just a little more around St. Louis, making one harken back to the days of Tris Speaker and The Bambino.
Mark Newman is enterprise editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.